BBC BLOGS - James Reynolds' China
« Previous | Main | Next »

When does old age begin?

Post categories:

James Reynolds | 11:50 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009

As I've written here before, China is a country that reveres age. But there's one question that I've always forgotten to ask: when does old age actually begin in this country?

Older chinese people

There are a few clues in the way people address one another. In China, when you're young, you can be called "Xiao" - which means little. If you're older, you can get the prefix "Lao" - which means old.

So, at what age can you get promoted from Xiao to Lao? Thirty five, says a friend of mine. However, whether you're called Xiao or Lao also depends on whether or not the person you're talking to is older or younger than you.

Still, if you've hit 35 and you've managed to win yourself the prefix Lao, you don't automatically qualify to be seen as old. For that, apparently, you may have to join a dance troupe.

This morning I came across a picture in the China Daily newspaper of a group of dancers from Shanghai posing with visiting cheerleaders from the Dallas Cowboys.

The Chinese dancers appear to be in their 40s or 50s - each of them apparently healthy and vigorous. However, the picture caption refers to them as "local elderly." (I can't imagine they will take this as a compliment.)

In China, respect for age seems to be mirrored by an equally powerful desire to delay the moment when you will be seen as old.

The Communist Party's most senior leaders - the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee - do not appear to have a single grey hair between them. It's a fairly astonishing achievement for a group of men well into their 50s and 60s.

The only time you tend to see a government official with grey hair is if he has been arrested and put on trial - where he is deprived both of his freedom and, apparently, his hair dye.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.